Ondřej Němec

* 1960

  • “I made a couple photos of a chapel in which laid the closed coffin. Then the procession walked towards the grave. I had been weaved my way through those people, taking some pictures but obviously, I could see those cops being just a step behind me. They really weren’t just observing; they literally walked one meter behind me. At the interrogation in Bartolomějská street, this was confirmed. They exactly knew how many pictures I took; they had done the counting. And of course, they were interested in how was it possible that I took 24 pictures on the 6x6 cm film, knowing I hadn’t changed it once… Then I reached the grave from behind, taking some more pictures and when the funeral was over and people were slowly dispersing I told my dad who was passing by in a slightly hysterical tone: ‘Dad, what should I do? These two guys are following me, I have the film and they’ll surely confiscate it!’ Very calmly, dad said: ‘Well, we’ll find a way, just wait here.’ My sister Markéta was there along with Nikolaj Stankovič. We made a cluster of four or five people. I took the whole cassette with the film from the camera, which was then passed on in the circle until finally ending up in Nikolaj Stankovič’s pocket. They then arrested Markéta, my dad and me but Nikolaj found a way to sneak out of there. I have a feeling that already on the way from the cemetery he passed the cassette to Fanynka Sokolová, Prof. Patočka’s daughter, at whose place I picked it up again in about two days.”

  • “If we wanted to say something, we knew how to. For instance, Pavla would have something written in large letters in her notebook, which we hadn’t said but my parents managed to read it. Or she had a picture of the ten people from the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted in her wallet. By showing it to them, they knew they were not forgotten and that something was taking place. Luckily, all ended up pretty well for my parents because they hadn’t taken our siblings from us. Of course that we were inspected by social workers. But those were more or less normal women from the institute for children’s well-being, who observed that there was food in the house. Surprisingly, a lot of decent people had also gotten in touch. First of all, we were helped by friends, but also our school teachers whom I recalled as rather unpleasant people. Now, they were asking us whether we needed help with cooking, which was quite a shock. Those were teachers from our elementary school and they knew all of us. But this came as a surprise. We thanked them but didn’t want them coming to our help, and we managed on our own. Then again, from today’s perspective, it is hard to imagine my children being able to handle such a situation… From an early age, we were brought up knowing that this might happen and that there were things which were worth it.”

  • “It was an amazing experience to hear Václav Havel speaking at the stage. I recall it in detail that we went out in front of Činoherák, walking up through Krakovská street or, in fact, Ve Smečkách. I was walking along Petruška Šustrová who was also in Wroclaw and told her: ‘Now, Petruška, could you have imagined two weeks ago in Wroclaw listening to Vašek Havel here in Prague at a stage?’ She replied: ‘Well, could you have imagined two days ago?’ I said: ‘Well, you’re right.’ We had no idea whatsoever. I don’t consider it plausible when people claim they knew a year or two ahead. We knew nothing.”

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    Praha, 16.01.2017

    duration: 01:24:15
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    Praha, 16.01.2017

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    Praha, 09.02.2017

    duration: 01:58:42
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We were brought up knowing that our parents may end up in prison at some point and that there were things, which were worth it

Ondřej Němec in 1978
Ondřej Němec in 1978
photo: Ondřej Němec

Ondřej Němec was born on 27 February 1960 into the family of Dana and Jiří Němec. Their apartment in Prague’s Ječná street served as a gathering space for dissidents, people from the underground and other anticommunists. The family left the country for Austria in 1968 but after a few months returned to Czechoslovakia where they felt they had their mission. All of the family members including children were under surveillance by the secret police; interrogations were taking place regularly. Ondřej faced interrogation for the first time while still a minor in 1977, following the funeral of Prof. Jan Patočka, and then for a number of times up until the Velvet Revolution. After the creation of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted, both of his parents were imprisoned and the seven siblings (of whom two were still minors) had to take care for themselves. Since twelve years of age, Ondřej has been doing photography, documenting some of the key dissident figures and events. His photos were included in samizdat publications, which he also distributed, despite never being allowed to study photography for political reasons. He trained to be a printmaker. Since 1975, he studied a vocational school associated with a cartography factory, where he then worked up until 1985. Between 1986 and 1990, he worked as a stoker in the Metrostav company. Following the Velvet Revolution, he worked as a photo reporter in Lidové noviny. In 2012, he left for Václav Havel Library where he still works in the archive of photography. Most of the negatives of his underground era photos were destroyed during the 2002 floods.